Any visitor to the Mackenzie and of course those who turn of Main Highway 8 at Burkes Pass, on to the Rollesby Valley Road, will be surprised at the expanse of open fertile country, stretching down to the Mackenzie Pass and beyond, to where, as history records, was where one of New Zealand’s notorious sheep stealer was allegedly captured.
However, that is a story for another time.
This little feature is about my grandfather’s dream.
I had always had a vague idea where my grandfather had originally launched into his ultimate dream of developing a flock of crossbred sheep, suited to the smaller yet more manageable acreage of the Mackenzie Basin, but had never ventured there.
|Original Airies Homestead|
A copy of a watercolour sketch by Noel Guthrie
Mark, my son took me on a little jaunt up into the area one day, not so long ago, to where my grandparents in the 1800s, built their first homestead in the Mackenzie Country. There are no formed tracks into the site now of course, but we turned off the Rollesby Valley Road, about half way between Burkes Pass and Mackenzie Pass, and literally headed for the hills, traversing eastward across rolling country between the road and the actual site.
What a view it turned out to be, from the base of those eastern slopes of Rollesby Valley. Those old pioneers obviously had a few clues as to the most suitable and sheltered position where they could put down roots.
From this sheltered spot, I could see across the valley, maybe ten kilometres or more and on to an uninterrupted view of those snow capped peaks along the Southern Alps.
I took some photographs of what is remaining of that original homestead, a couple of stubby concrete foundations, of which I was able to establish the outline of part of my ancestry. As one becomes a little older, family history seems to have more meaning. We never had time for that when we were younger, too busy raising our own families I suppose.
Getting back to grandfathers dream though, he had obviously planted a great number of trees to act as shelter along the steep faces behind the house and to the south. Now of course, having succumbed to the saw miller, those trees are nothing more than rotting pine stumps, which disappear into the middle distance beneath a carpet of shimmering golden high country pasture.
It is over 130 years since my grandfather came to the Mackenzie. Like a great number of those early settlers into this portion of New Zealand, my grandfather, Robert Guthrie, was a true blue Scot. He had entered University in Scotland to take up a degree in law. However, as with that profession, his days were spent indoors and to the detriment of his health. In an effort to improve his circumstances, he travelled to Canada, but was soon to return. At that point, he must have decided to travel to New Zealand aboard the sailing vessel ‘Corlic’ in 1876 and put down roots in the Mackenzie.
One thing in Robert’s favour was that he possessed a strong love of nature and enjoyed the rugged surroundings of the Mackenzie landscape; it so reminded him of his homeland.
So, for almost the next 20 years, his law degree and university education assisted him as he managed a number of high country sheep runs throughout the Mackenzie.
At first he spent four years managing the Wolds Run, which lay between Irishman Creek and Simons Pass, on the western side of the Tekapo River.
For the three years following, he took up management of the Blainslie Run in the Albury district. It was during this term at Blainslie, that Robert married Catherine.
In 1883, at the request of the Rutherford brothers, John, Robert and Edmund, my grandfather was appointed as manager of the Mistake Station, (now known as Godley Peaks), at the head of Lake Tekapo, where Robert and Catherine spent the next ten years of their life.
It was during their time at the Mistake Station, grandfather had this dream. He saw the greater possibilities for growth in the Mackenzie. With the prospect of closer settlement of this regions more accessible country, he became one of the first high countrymen to put his dream into practice.
In 1893, part of the greater ‘Three Springs Run’, which stretched from the western side of Fairlie to Burkes Pass, the Government subdivided part of this for closer settlement. Robert and Catherine tendered their interest and were the successful applicants for a block between Burkes Pass and Kimbell, a block they subsequently named Airies. This name probably originating from Roberts home province, ‘Ayrshire’, back in Scotland.
One year later in 1894, two more blocks came up, namely Single Hill and Knobbies were subdivided off the neighbouring Rollesby Run. Donald McLeod took both these lots. However, he soon relinquished the Knobbies piece to Robert and Catherine, who incorporated it into the Airies Run and stocked it with around 4000 head of crossbred sheep. It appears it was the Knobbies block, where Robert and Catherine decided to build.
It was that strong love of nature and of the environment, which Robert became recognized as quite an authority in all branches of the pastoral association, and became a member of the Agricultural and Pastoral Society.
Of course, being a Scot, there was only one recognized form of music, the bagpipes, so I suppose it was natural enough for him to become one of the founding members of the Mackenzie Caledonian Society.
Robert seemed to like becoming involved in community affairs and soon concerned himself with the Burkes Pass School Committee. Well, of course with 14 kids, he was going to be involved for some time.
For a period of time, Robert was a member of the Mackenzie County Council, officially known as the Mackenzie Roads Board, at the time when the Offices, was located at Burkes Pass.
Robert and Catherine moved off Airies, selling out to A. G. Alder, and became city dwellers in Timaru shortly before 1920. However his retirement was short-lived and he passed away within a short time.
Airies passed on to P. P. Hudson during the 1940s, before H.A.Munro took control in 1950, the family retaining title even to this day.
It was during the Munros’ tenancy, that grandfathers first homestead succumbed to the ravages of a violent nor-west gale. Obviously it had not been occupied for some time, but never the less, it is sad to see part of a family heritage disappear in just a little puff of wind, so to speak.
Thank you for reading my blog, hope you enjoyed it.
Have a nice day.